Richard Mueller met Neil deGrasse Tyson

Textbook journal


Aleksandar Janjic: Habitat Universe. Introduction to Exoecology. Springer Verlag 2017. ISBN 978-3-662-54786-1. Softcover + eBook € 19.99

Mr Janjic, your book presentation at the Leipzig Book Fair in March 2018 was surprising. There, a large number of young listeners listened attentively to you and discussed your subject very actively with you. Are young people particularly sensitive to the topic of extraterrestrial life forms?

When I give lectures in schools, the response is quite huge. However, I almost always have to give in in the discussions, as the scientific field of astrobiology is exploited by the common media such as television channels and young people consume precisely these areas, i.e. YouTube and "documentaries".

Is that what serves the curiosity about the unknown or more the ET feeling or even the Godzilla horror? And there are also spectacular conspiracy theories about aliens and extraterrestrials involved?

Young people almost always refer to statements from "documentaries" about conspiracy theories, be it UFO abductions or NASA secrecy. It's a shame that something like that would dominate the discussions if you left the youngsters to yourself. Astrobiology has so much to offer in this century - some things are even more spectacular than anything conspiracy theories have to offer, be it imminent landings on moons with hidden oceans or meter-deep ground drillings in Mars.

You are studying ecology and astrophysics at the Technical University of Munich, so obviously no more opposites today. Do you already know which biosignatures we should look for on distant celestial bodies in order to be able to track down extraterrestrial ecosystems and how do you define the latter?

We need to look for biosignatures that “suggest” an atmospheric imbalance. For example, our earth is in such an imbalance: Actually, the methane in the atmosphere should react with oxygen within a maximum of two decades. However, the simultaneous existence shows us that methane is constantly being pumped up somewhere - by microorganisms. In fact, finding an oxygen-methane mixture in an extraterrestrial atmosphere is the main target today, although one is also on the lookout for carbon dioxide or nitrogen compounds. However, there are always two dangers here: On the one hand, the false positives, that e.g. we discover oxygen in an atmosphere, but in reality this was formed purely abiotic - for example by splitting water vapor by UV radiation from the star.

So we would wrongly speak of biological signatures, although purely geological or other abiotic aspects are responsible?

Yes, and also the exact opposite is a difficulty in astrobiology: the so-called false negatives. Here we would describe a planet as "dead" because, for example, it has no oxygen in the atmosphere. We know that in prehistoric times the earth had almost no oxygen in the atmosphere, but was definitely alive - something we call "hidden ecosystems". So we would classify a planet as inanimate even though it could have hidden ecosystems like on primeval Earth. Of course, it can never be ruled out that a completely different life also exists that requires completely different substances. These “cryptic ecosystems”, as we call them, are not the main goal of today's exoplanet research. We are currently actually looking for an earth-like planet, there is nothing else we can do in our situation, since the earth is currently the only reference for a living world.

What is your prognosis: Will we still be able to prove an exoplanet with life in the foreseeable future, let's say this century, i.e. find extraterrestrial life forms?

I am pessimistic about exoplanets - even if we find a strong indication, we can never completely rule out that abiotic conditions, i.e. false positives, are responsible. Before one wants to understand “life” as astrobiology, one must first fully understand “non-life” and exclude all abiotic possibilities; otherwise there is always a risk of confusion. Since we will not reach an exoplanet in the foreseeable future, the proof of life thus remains an “x + 20-year” science, in which every generation assumes that the time has come, but nothing happens in the end. While there is a potential possibility that we will find definite traces of intelligent aliens, I consider that to be extremely speculative.

As an astrobiologist, where do you see “concrete” opportunities?

I don't see the chances that far out at all, but rather directly with us in the solar system in this century: The new missions for Mars, but also for the moons Enceladus, Europe and Titan, are promising, because we are actually investigating here on site can, which makes false positives a smaller problem than with exoplanets. As an astrobiologist, I would also like to mention one last possibility: For this century it cannot be ruled out that “foreign” life will arise - on earth. Synthetic biology and xenobiology, but also information technology, make it seem quite improbable in this century that the first “artificial” cells or other entities will see the light of day. Much more like small petri dishes than exotic ecosystems, and no large extraterrestrial landscapes. It remains exciting, one way or the other.

Thank you very much, Mr Janjic. Many more details can be found in the second, revised and much more extensive edition of your book in 2019. This will then no longer be an “introduction”, but rather a textbook. We are excited.



Neil deGrasse Tyson, Michael A. Strauss, J. Richard Gott: Welcome to the Universe: An Astrophysical Tour. 472 pages, bound. Princeton University Press 2016.

ISBN 978-0-691-15724-5

This English-language book arose from a series of lectures at Princeton University that were offered for several years as an introduction to astronomy for students of all disciplines. The individual chapters cover topics such as the planetary system, stars, the Milky Way, galaxies and cosmology, but this is not a structured introductory course that one would expect for students of physics and astronomy. In terms of level, the book is easy to understand and written in a narrative style. Mathematical formulas are largely dispensed with. This gives the reader an insight into modern astronomy that is also of interest to non-physicists.


Neil deGrasse Tyson, Michael A. Strauss, J. Richard Gott: Welcome to the Universe: The Problem Book 235 pages, paperback. Princeton University Press 2017.

ISBN 978-0-691-17781-6

As a companion book to “Welcome to the Universe”, the authors published this English-language collection of exercises with over 120 exercises, which completely cover and deepen the subject areas of the introductory course. With regard to the degree of difficulty, the questions can largely be solved with a solid knowledge of upper school physics. Mathematical knowledge that goes significantly beyond school algebra is not required. In the second part of this book you will find the extensively commented solutions.


Neil Degrasse Tyson: The Universe for those in a hurry.192 pages, bound. Carl Hanser Verlag Munich 2018.

ISBN 978-3-446-25835-8. € 17.00

The astrophysicist, who is very well known in the English-speaking world, introduces the reader, who is too busy for a course at the adult education center, for documentary films or specialist literature, to the world of modern astrophysics. The topics he deals with cover wide areas of astronomy, including the basics of elementary particle physics with the underlying interactions, the big bang, element synthesis, dark energy and dark matter, exoplanets and astrobiology. Of course, reading the twelve essays in this book is no substitute for a systematic introduction to astronomy, but it is very entertaining, written with a pinch of humor and easy to understand.


Stefan Klein: The universe and the nothing. From the beauty of the universe. 240 pages, bound. S. Fischer Verlag Frankfurt 2017.

ISBN 978-3-10-397261. € 20.00

Modern physics and the description of the universe based on it has raised a multitude of new discoveries, but also a host of new questions. In this book, the author introduces the reader to this world of thought and the state of modern physics and astrophysics. Previous knowledge is not required, the book is easy to understand and is written in an exciting way for laypeople. The topics cover areas of relativity and quantum theory, the modern theories of the big bang, dark matter and energy are presented, and the question of life on other planets arises. The approach is interesting: everyday experiences are often used as the starting point for the individual chapters, but also a fictional crime story. How the author manages, for example, to come from the morning observation of a graying beard in the mirror to the development of the universe over time is quite unusual. The author's comments at the end of the book provide further in-depth insights.


Sibylle Anderl: The universe and me. The philosophy of astrophysics. 256 pages, bound. Carl Hanser Verlag 2017.

ISBN 978-3-446-25663-7. € 22.00

This book is not the usual introduction to the current state of knowledge about the universe, but rather the author, who has a PhD in astrophysics with a further degree in philosophy, tries to find out how this knowledge comes about at all. Can we trust the results at all or does the cosmos look completely different after all? Vividly, with a lot of inside knowledge and personal experiences, the author describes the modern scientific activity in astronomical research in theory and in observation, which has absolutely nothing to do with the romantic notion of the astronomer who spends the night behind his telescope. It describes the laborious acquisition and reduction of data, the simulations and model calculations, of a universe on which one cannot conduct experiments, but has to extract our knowledge from the variety of phenomena. An exciting book about philosophy and astrophysics.


R. Jaumann, U. Köhler, F. Sohl, D. Tirsch, S. Pieth: Expedition to foreign worlds. 20 billion kilometers through the solar system. 381 pages, hardcover. Springer Verlag 2018.

ISBN 978-3-662-54995-7. € 29.99

In the past decades the sun, all large planets, a large number of its moons, many dwarf and minor planets and some comets have been visited and examined at close range in numerous space probe missions. A rich yield of close-ups (a large and representative selection is shown here) and the measurement data from other instruments allow a much more detailed view of these celestial bodies than with earth-based telescopes. So it is not really surprising that the authors are not classical astronomers, but rather planetologists, geologists, planetary physicists and specialists in image processing. The celestial bodies, their internal structure, their atmospheres, their surface formations and theories of their development over time are described in detail. This gives the reader an entertaining, easy-to-read insight into the current state of research in our immediate cosmic environment.


Lawrence M. Krauss: The Greatest Adventure of Mankind. About trying to decipher the universe. 384 pages, 65 illustrations, bound. Albrecht Knaus Verlag Munich 2018.

ISBN 978-3-8135-0660-0. € 26.00

This book by the theoretical physicist is not just a book on astronomy, although there are plenty of points of contact. Rather, it leads the reader through the history of physics. Krauss reports competently and in detail about their centuries-old development and the resulting upheavals in our view of the world, which in modern theories do not at all fit with “common sense”. Classical mechanics, electrodynamics, relativity, quantum mechanics and the theory of elementary particles are some of the stations that the author discusses and that takes the reader to the limit of the current state of knowledge. However, this should not be entirely without physical knowledge, even if there is no other formula apart from Einstein's mandatory formula.

The 2017 Nobel Prize for Physics was awarded to three physicists who played a key role in the direct detection of gravitational waves. The following three books deal with this highly topical subject. The books in this series are intended to provide a first, compact introduction to a specific topic.


Domenico Giulini, Claus Kiefer: Gravitational waves.Insights into theory, prediction, and discovery. 54 pages, softcover. Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden 2017.

ISBN 948-3-658-16012-8. € 9.99

This book deals with gravitational waves, tiny vibrations of the space-time structure, which Einstein theoretically predicted over 100 years ago. Indirect evidence has existed since the 1970s, direct detection with highly sensitive measuring devices was only possible in 2015, when the signal of the merging of two heavy black holes reached Earth. Among other things, the authors investigate the question of what gravitational waves are and how they arise, at which astronomical events they can be observed, how the detectors work and how the first signals were detected. The target group are physicists and other natural scientists, but also high school students who are not afraid of some formulas.


Andreas Müller: 10 things you want to know about gravitational waves. Of the weakest signals and the strongest events. 255 pages, 57 illustrations, softcover. Springer-Verlag Germany 2017.

ISBN 978-3-662-54408-2. € 19.99

The author introduces the area using ten questions that are generally understandable, but detailed and highly interesting. The questions deal with the entire complex of topics: including the formation of gravitational waves, the detection methods and the instruments used, the discovery of the first direct signal, and an outlook on future experiments. In each chapter, a researcher has his say in a short interview, and one of the Nobel laureates was interviewed by the author. So the reader gets an excellent overview of this research area, one can understand how incredibly complex modern research can be, and how many researchers had to work together in international collaborations in order to be able to detect the tiny signals at all. As a bonus, the buyer of this book can download the e-book for the book free of charge.


Rüdiger Vaas: Signals from gravity. Gravitational waves: from Einstein's knowledge to the new era of astrophysics. 208 pages, 80 illustrations, paperback. Franckh Kosmos Verlag Stuttgart 2017.

ISBN 978-3-440-15957-6. € 12.99

This author also skilfully and easily traces the path from Einstein's prediction to the evidence and the outlook for this new era of astrophysics. Almost no formulas are used. The book also contains the latest research results in this area: not only several signals of the merging of black holes, but also the colliding neutron stars have now been detected.


Ernst Künzl: Heroes in the sky. Astral myths and constellations of antiquity. 128 pages, 106 illustrations, bound. Nünnerich-Asmus Verlag Mainz 2018.

ISBN 978-3-961760-21-3. € 24.90

The names of the constellations that we use today come to a large extent from antiquity, from the legends of the Greeks and Romans as well as from the Middle East. The

Constellation names are a hodgepodge of demigods, mythical creatures, animals, monsters and chained virgins. Many actors from the Hercules and Perseus sagas or the ship of the Argonauts were immortalized in constellations. The ancient gods can be found in the names of the planets. The constellation boundaries are now defined as straight lines, the beautiful images of the mythological figures have given way to sober connecting lines, but all attempts to introduce more modern or Christian constellation names have failed. Animal names and technical devices without a mythological background can only be found in the southern sky, the constellations of which were named much later in western culture. In the Roman-Germanic Central Museum in Mainz you can admire a copy of a small, approx. 1800-year-old celestial globe on which 48 of the classic constellations are depicted. The author presents their legends and myths in this entertaining book.


Erik Bertram: God's great plan. A journey through the history of the universe. 250 pages, brochure with flaps. Tectum Baden-Baden 2017.

ISBN 978-3-8288-3962-5. € 18.95

Even if the title of the book suggests otherwise: the author takes the reader on a vividly portrayed foray through the past, present and future of the universe.He remains in the field of knowledge of modern astrophysics, with the many interfaces with other areas of physics. In the early phase of the universe, conditions prevailed that are now being investigated using the theory of relativity and elementary particle physics. In the late universe, galaxies are formed and within them many generations of stars with planets, at least one of which is home to life. In the third chapter the search for planets of other stars and for life on them is described, questions of space travel and possible scenarios for the further development of the universe are discussed. Of course, there are still many unanswered questions and many points of contact with theological concepts in modern cosmology. Even an astronomer is asked how he gets on with God. The reader will find a personal view of the author on this question at the end of the book.


Dieter Richter: Ephemeris calculation step by step.Determining sunrise and Co. made easy. 122 pages, 76 illustrations, softcover. Springer-Verlag 1st edition 2017.

ISBN 978-3-662-54715-1. € 29.99

In astronomy, ephemeris are tables with the positions of the sun, moon, planets and other celestial bodies at a certain point in time, which are needed to find them in the sky. This book shows the basics for calculating them in the context of the two-body problem (except for the moon), based on Newton's law of gravity and Kepler's laws. With the help of suitable coordinate transformations, the positions calculated from the orbit parameters are converted from the orbital plane of the celestial body into other coordinate systems, so that, for example, the rise and set times for the observation site can be calculated. In addition to the position of the sun, the calculation of the astronomical beginning of spring, the construction of rotatable star maps or calculations for solar and lunar eclipses are shown as application examples of such calculations. The book shows the necessary calculation steps and formulas in order to be able to carry out such calculations yourself.


Claus Grupen: Entry into astroparticle physics.Basics, measurements and results of current research. Springer Spektrum Verlag 2nd edition 2018.441 pages, 288 illustrations, softcover.

ISBN 978-3-662-55270-4. € 54.99

Not only light and radio waves come to earth from space. High-energy particles, X-rays and gamma rays also arrive and have been researched in astronomy for more than a hundred years and are noticeable through an increased radiation level during air travel and especially in space travel. The interactions of these particles (which usually move so fast that effects of the theory of relativity are relevant), the processes by which they get their high energy, the measuring techniques and measuring devices for detection are described after a historical introduction. A distinction is made between primary cosmic radiation and radiation that is generated in the earth's atmosphere by high-energy particles in the form of particle showers. Newer research areas such as dark matter, dark energy and gravitational waves (no particle radiation, but vibrations of space-time), aspects of cosmology, the early universe and the big bang are also discussed. The book is not a simple, popular introduction to astroparticle physics, but with some physical and mathematical background it is also very readable for interested non-physicists. The numerous topic-related amusing cartoons that loosen up the reading are typical of the author's works.


Christophe Galfard: The universe in your hand. The incredible journey through the vastness of space and time.400 pages, 1 illustration, bound. Publishing house C.H. Beck, Munich 2017.

ISBN 978-3-406-714481. € 24.95

The astrophysicist and former PhD student of Stephen Hawking chose an unusual path for this book, which takes the reader on an intellectual journey through the past, present and future of the universe. In a personal conversation style, with many thought experiments, he gives the reader an insight into the structure of the universe, into the theory of relativity and quantum mechanics, into the world of elementary particles, travels through black holes with him and sends him on a journey through time to the beginning of our universe and to others Universes (theoretical physicists seriously speculate about their existence). This excitingly written book has already been a bestseller in several countries and, despite the challenging topic, does not overwhelm the reader. And the author keeps his promise that apart from Einstein's famous formula there is no other formula.


Christian Köberl, Alwin Schönberger: Beware of falling rocks. Asteroids and meteorites. Deadly danger and cradle of life. 208 pages, hardcover with dust jacket. Christian Brandstätter Verlag Vienna 2018.

ISBN 978-3-7106-0094-4. € 22.90

A look at the moon through a telescope shows the crater-scarred surface that has been shaped by impacts from meteorites and asteroids for billions of years. To date, almost 200 larger impact craters have been found on earth, which are only partially recognizable due to weathering and geological processes. Here in Germany, with the Nördlinger Ries, we have the remnant of a hit that wiped out all life in a wide area 15 million years ago. Even better known is the barely recognizable crater on Mexico's Yucatan peninsula, where the impacting celestial body caused a worldwide catastrophe and, among other things, the demise of the dinosaurs. A positive side effect, however, was the rise of mammals, which quickly reoccupied the ecological sites that had become vacant. In this book, the authors describe not only the methods used to detect impact craters, but also in detail the course of such impact events that will also occur again in the future. Fortunately, large impacts are extremely rare, the larger chunks have meanwhile been tracked down by astronomers and none of them will be on a collision course with Earth in the foreseeable future. But what a smaller specimen (and the lists are still very incomplete)) can do to destruction, could be seen a few years ago in the Russian city of Chelyabinsk. Other topics addressed by the authors are the role of meteorites in the origin of life on earth, as suppliers of water and the building blocks of life. And of course, they are also looking into the question of whether we have the ability to repel an asteroid or whether this is just a Hollywood fantasy.


Bergita Ganse, Urs Ganse: The little handbook for budding space travelers. Rockets, Hyper-G and Shrimp Cocktail. 304 pages, paperback. Springer-Verlag Germany 2017.

ISBN978-3-662-54410-5. € 24.99

The two authors, an astrophysicist and a space medicine specialist, give the reader interesting and entertaining insights into manned space travel. The first part describes technical aspects such as the structure and function of the spaceship, the necessary orbit maneuvers and everyday life in space. The space medicine section deals with the health problems that a human organism gets in weightlessness and the means by which they can be met. Finally, worthwhile travel destinations beyond Earth orbit are presented. In addition to a lot of inside information, some amusing anecdotes and (at least sometimes not completely serious) advice are conveyed to future cosmo-, astro or taikonauts.

Aleksandar Janjic: Habitat Universe. Introduction to Exoecology. 220 pages, 10 illustrations, hardcover and e-book. Springer Verlag 2017.

ISBN 978-3-662-54786. € 19.99

This book is an introduction to astrobiology and the interaction of life with its environment. It is divided into three parts. The first part deals with the question of how one can even remotely detect life on a planet outside the solar system, i.e. which signatures one would have to look for. In the second part the reader learns that life can also exist in extreme habitats. There are already many examples of this on our earth alone. The question of whether primitive life forms could be robust enough to transport life from one planet to another celestial body is also investigated here. Perhaps life did not originate on earth at all. The third section of the book describes the origins of life. Numerous bibliographical references allow the reader to delve deeper into this current research area.


Mark Emmerich, Sven Melchert: Everything about astronomy.192 pages, 280 color photos, 60 illustrations, laminated cardboard tape. Franckh-Kosmos Verlag 4th edition 2017.

ISBN 978-3-440-15622-3. € 9.99

This inexpensive, richly illustrated book for beginners in astronomy is divided into a total of four sections. The first section gives an impression of the modern research methods in astronomy with their large telescopes and satellites. The second section deals with our closer cosmic environment, the sun and the planetary system, the third section introduces stars, the objects of the Milky Way, galaxies and cosmology. The fourth section is devoted to observing the sky. Maps with the changing view of the starry sky over the course of the year, tips for observing the celestial bodies and their photography, an idea of ​​the various types of telescopes, information on observatories, astrology meals and addresses on the Internet give the beginner enough information to get started with this hobby.